SUNIZONA, AZ (KOLD) - Authorites in Cochise County may be close to solving a missing-persons mystery more than a decade old.
May 23rd, 1993: Somewhere along Arizona Route 181 between Sunizona and Elfrida, many believe Dorothy and Danielle Pitcher took their last steps. The mother and daughter loved to walk: 47 year old Dorothy had 17 kids, so this was great exercise. And 14 year old Danielle usually got a treat whenever she joined her mom for the four mile hike to the market.
An abandoned building in Sunizona was the last known sighting for Dorothy and Danielle Pitcher. At the time, it was the A&M Market. They came here to buy ice cream and cigarettes around 2pm that day. The mother and daughter haven't been seen since.
"Every day is a struggle. Some days you can talk about it. Other days you cant even think about it--it just kills you that much quicker," says Dawn Pitcher, one of Dorothy's children talking to us from Western Massachusetts. She was 20 years old and living in Boston when her mother and sister vanished.
"I knew right away that foul play was the case," Dawn says. "I had to grow up very quickly. My father, he couldn't handle this--he really couldn't. And I believe my dad died 11 years ago, 11 and a half years ago--and I believe this did him in."
While Mr. John Pitcher was briefly identified as a suspect--he'd later pass a polygraph test confirming his innocence--police soon considered the possibility of abduction. As weeks turned to months and months turned to years, the possibilities only grew worse.
"It's really horrible if you think about it. If you sit down and think about it--it's horrible, it really is," says Elfrida resident Jim Healey. He lived just across the street from the Pitchers. For his own peace of mind, he doesn't like to dwell on those dark days back in 1993. But every so often, he can't help but think about what happened to his friends from across the street.
"Especially when you see an article in the paper. Everybody starts wondering, did this person do it, did this person do it, you know...you don't know."
Which brings us back to today.
Over the last few months, Cochise County investigators and scientists from the University of Arizona have been dredging up the past in search of answers. For investigative purposes, they can't tell us what they found on 19 acres of private property near Sunizona.
But using radio wave technology and subsurface imaging, they did tell us how they look for clues. Nature has a habit of leaving its own footprint, particularly in soil. When that footprint is altered in any way--their equipment (namely a Geophysical Survey System) is able to detect that.
"There is a distinctive thing that happens when any excavation is made--whether it's for a shallow grave or any other kind of excavation," says Professor Ben Sternberg, director of UA's Laboratory of Advanced Subsurface Imaging.
Again, at this point, investigators aren't saying what, specifically, was found on the property. But sources close to the case tell us some very big news is coming.
According to a search warrant obtained by KOLD News 13--the fate of Dorothy and Danielle Pitcher is outlined in graphic detail: an alleged confession, involving kidnapping, rape and murder.
Because the confession is coming from a third party, we are not saying the man's name at this point. But he is somebody authorities spoke to way back in 1993. And somebody they could be talking to again in the near future.
Says the Pitcher family's neighbor, Jim Healey, "If they find out who's responsible they need to pay for it. The family deserves that, they really do."